How do we disrupt our thinking?

Innovation is a constant theme throughout my blog. It is a constant theme throughout the books I choose to read, the blog posts I choose to read, share and comment on, the podcasts I listen to. I am enthralled by the process, the mindset and by those who do it well. The more I read, the less mystical it becomes and in the same breath the more difficult it can seem. Largely my reading leads me to business innovation as there is so much to learn from looking outside education, especially when it comes to how large corporations (insert schools here) adjust their path (quickly) and innovate. Innovation is the reason behind the CoLearn MeetUp. I wanted to move past interest and more into action and the themes of our MeetUps are based around developing innovation cultures, mindsets and tool sets. Education needs innovation now more than ever but innovation is not a person or a thing. Innovation is a way of thinking, a way of questioning and as I wrote in a previous post, a process. Maybe my obsession stems from my love of punk rock. I like seeing the world through alternative lenses, challenging the status quo. The challenge is moving away from the way we have always done things, to disrupt the current status. Disruptive innovation, a term made popular by innovation guru Clayton Christensen is defined by Wikipedia as

an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances.

Now that’s all well and good in business but how does that translate to education. What is the education version of Uber or AirBnB? I’m not sure on that one but once again it is the thinking that jumps out at me.  How do you disrupt your thinking? According to Luke Williams, author of DISRUPT: Think the unthinkable to spark transformation in your business, there are three steps. A key part to these three steps is being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Silly ideas, crazy ideas, whatever ideas, the key is to defer judgement. Let them swill around in your brain and let them be possible. As the famous cliche goes, you need to think outside the box.

Step 1. What do you want to disrupt? 

The area of focus needs to be high level. Think big.  Let’s say for example I want to disrupt the shape of the day for schools. Time is always listed as a constraint for schools, for learning. I want to disrupt the shape of the day so that we can discover better examples for our use of time.

Step 2. What are the cliches?

Williams describes cliches as “the assumptions that influence the way insiders think about the situation”. The assumption about the structure of the day is that it works for all learners, for all ages. Another assumption is that everyone learns best between 8.30 and 3.30pm.  Whatever suggestion, let the idea swill and defer judgement. Wear it for a while.

Step 3. What are your disruptive hypotheses? 

Start provoking the status quo. What lies in the adjacent possible? What can you invert? What can you deny? We need to defer judgement on our hypotheses and let them swill around in our brain. These are what ifs, fresh perspectives. Let’s say we start the day at 11am. Studies show that a later start would work for the developing teenage brain. What about if school followed the Spanish lifestyle and we had a siesta in the afternoon, followed by our creative subjects. It works for Don Draper! We would have to minus the scotch though. Whatever you land on, the thinking is the hero. From here you need to test and validate that your assumption works.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This is exactly the definition of innovation that parents think of when they hear teachers and schools talk of innovation. Experimenting on their children. It isn’t. It is seeing the beauty in new possibilities and finding out (quickly) whether or not this works. A great framework for how school’s can use this thinking can be found within Richard Olsen’s Inquiry Oriented Innovation process.  The strategic component of the framework has four categories.

1. Educational goals 

This is largely the purpose of school. The why. It can differ from school to school, school segment to school segment but it is the overarching vision for the school.

2. Stakeholder expectations/beliefs

What does the school community expect and believe? A strong correlation and connection between the educational goals and the stakeholder expectations is extremely important. Many families chose schools based on the school’s beliefs, goals and values. Many families Ieave schools because of the same thing. The strength of this relationship is paramount. The same goes for teachers. Teachers need to feel that they are valued and that the school that they work at aligns with their values (well at least they should!).

3. Student needs

According to Olsen, these are the pressing, changing or unique social and emotional needs, content, skills and traits that learners possess or require developing.  The needs of the students needs to drive all innovation in my opinion. Contributing to the development of young people is our core business and so should drive all quests for improvement.

4. Compelling opportunities

What are the great opportunities at our feet? What local, community, technological, global opportunities present new pathways? Identifying these can help develop innovative opportunities in your school. We can start to bring in the disruptive thinking process here. Most innovation is from recyled or repurposed ideas and so we can start to let the great, crazy and zany ideas swill around in our heads. Remixing ideas or smashing two or three ideas together. Using the ten types of innovation to see new possibilities. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

From here we develop our innovation thesis, our hypothesis. I’ll touch on this more in my next post.

If you are keen to know more about this process, come and join us at Collective Campus on Wednesday September 28 at 6.30pm. This MeetUp is for Melbourne based educators at the moment but the next MeetUp will be online. More to come shortly.

As always, comments welcome. Thanks for reading.

How do your innovations stack up?

In my last post, I talked about disciplined innovation and the Ten Types of Innovation.  In this post I want to spend a little time unpacking the ten types.  The work that Larry Keeley and his team have done is tremendous and I implore people to spend some time engaging with it.  Keeley and his team defined innovation as a “viable new offering” and through extensive research over the past thirty years have determined ten types of innovation.  These are broken up in to three categories, Configuration (what’s under the hood of your school, business or enterprise), Offering (core product/s or service/s) and Experience (how you deal with your students/parents/clients).  Below are the ten types of innovation and a brief explanation.


  1. Profit Model – How do you sustain your organisation and create value for individuals (or make money)
  2. Network – How you connect with others to create
  3. Structure – How you organise and align your talent and assets
  4. Process – How you use signature or superior methods to do your work


  1. Product Performance – How do you develop distinguishing features and functionality
  2. Product System – How you create complementary services or products


  1. Service – How you support and amplify the value of your offerings
  2. Channel – How you deliver your offerings to customers and users
  3. Brand – How you represent your offerings and business
  4. Customer Engagement – How you foster compelling interactions

Definitions taken from Ten Types of Innovation book

The language is very business centric but the categories can be reworded to suit education.  The key to using the categories is to not see innovation as solely living in one.  In fact, Keeley and his team say that real innovation should be innovative in a combination of categories.  It is this approach that is exciting.  You can use the ten types to assess your innovation and as a guide to adding value to it.  A remix of categories can lead to the “adjacent possible”, bringing to light new ways of looking at a problem.

The best way I found to engage with the ten types of innovation was to take an existing innovative project (what I believed to be anyway) and assess it against each category.  Was is it innovative in any category?  Was it innovative in more than one category?  Looking at the project through the lens of each category also opened up new possibilities, had me raising new questions.  How could I improve the delivery to students?  Could I connect with others to create more value?  Was there any other complementary services that could plug in and amplify the project?  Using this approach was a really simple way to continually improve the project.  The great people at Doblin have also got a Ten Types iPad app which provides great explanations and innovation tactics for each category to help spark ideas.  It is free but you have to pay to get all the features.  Nevertheless it is still worth checking out.

As always comments welcome.

Can you teach someone to be innovative?

I asked this question at a recent CoLearn MeetUp to a fellow colearner and he was quite taken aback by the question.  It is a tough one and I think the question quickly pegs down your beliefs about how we learn.  Are some people just born innovative or can you follow a process to be innovative (and in essence be taught how to be innovative)?  Replace innovation with creativity in the question and what do you think?  Can you teach someone to be creative?  When we think of innovative thinkers and doers, we often would also think of them as being creative.  Is the capacity to see and discover new opportunities or possibilities a genetic predisposition or a process that can be taught?  In my opinion, I believe you can teach someone to be innovative and creative.  It all comes down to discipline.  Let me explain.

Currently I am reading and rereading (such a good book!) Larry Keeley’s book Ten Types of Innovation.  The byline is “The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs”.  Keeley and his colleagues have spent the past thirty years living and breathing innovation and had me hooked by the second page when I read the following provocation.

What do you do when the problems are real, the stakes are high, time is short, and abstract answers are inadequate?

Larry Keeley

Education = real problems, high stakes, no time and no tolerance for ambiguity.  So where do we go from here?  Through analysing innovation over thirty years, Keeley and team of Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn and Helen Waters have discovered that there are ten types of innovation.  A “periodic table of innovation” as they eloquently put it.  The below image lists the ten types.

Ten Types of Innovation

I will unpack the ten types in a later post but I want to focus on the demystification that Keeley kicks the book off with and return to my original question.  He firstly defines innovation as “the creation of of a viable new offering”.  He then dispels common myths about innovation by stating the following:

  • Innovation is not invention

  • Think beyond products

  • Very little is truly new in innovation

  • Innovations have to earn their keep

  • Innovation requires discipline

The last point is one that keeps popping up when I read works from innovation leaders and experts from around the world.  Valerie Hannan and her team at the Innovation Unit have developed the Disciplined Innovation Model and believe that for lasting change to occur, innovation needs to systematic and disciplined. Eric Ries, the pioneer of the Lean Start Up uses the discipline of the scientific method and fast feedback loops to drive innovation success.  This process has revolutionised business all over the world.  Jake Knapp and the team at Google Ventures have a developed a five day design sprint method designed to reduce assumptions and build solutions that work and this process is disciplined and systematic and has helped organisations like Slack develop and improve.

Innovation = disciplined.

Great innovation follows a process and so can be taught.  I’ll finish with a provocation…

Do you believe creativity can be taught?

Thanks as always for reading.

Learning space design inspiration

This is a collation of inspiration I collected for learning space development at Ivanhoe. I hope it inspires conversations at your school.


I often struggle with writing.  I type, I edit, I edit, I type, I edit.  I read and reread posts and have as many drafts unpublished as I do published posts. This is my first step to break that routine. It is the first step in my deliberate practice routine. Deliberate practice is a phrase coined by Anders Ericsson from his research into expert performance. Ericsson determined that expert performance was less about ability and talent and more about the dedication to a strict and specific practice routine. His work has been made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Outliers where Gladwell highlighted the 10,000 hour rule as a key to mastery.  Practice for 10,000 hours and you will be an expert.  Ericsson disagreed with this interpretation. It isn’t about the volume of practice but the quality of practice. Feedback is key and this is where you kind folk come into play.  My deliberate practice routine is called Read, Think, Write.  Twenty minutes of reading, twenty minutes of thinking and twenty minutes of writing.  The practice routine will take place five times a week and I will post once a week.  My rationale for this routine? To develop as a thinker by standing on the shoulders of giants. The source of my inspiration for this week is the amazing book, Ten Types of Innovation by Larry Keeley, Brian Quinn, Ryan Pikkel and Helen Waters.

Conditions for innovation

What are the right conditions for innovation to take place?  In a previous post I defined innovation as “significant positive growth” so with this in mind what are the right conditions for significant positive growth to take place?  As usual for me the questions start popping up.  What is our metric for growth?  What are the conditions that lets ideas thrive?  What is our measure of success?  Pulling this all together,

How Might We create the conditions for innovation in schools?

As a question it is incredibly nuanced and complex.  If we were to throw this question to a group to discuss, many would start with the road blocks, the items preventing innovation from happening.  While discussing these might railroad the conversation, it can also provide opportunities for greater insight and innovation.  Our roadblocks or constraints can actually allow us to think clearer, to adapt and to respond.  The use of constraints as a springboard for innovation was used for this exact purpose at a recent CoLearn Meetup.  A group of passionate educators and I tackled this design challenge.

How Might We create the conditions for innovation within the current constraints of school?

Our first step was to collectively define innovation.  To prevent groupthink, this was done using a technique from the Google Ventures Sprint process called Working Alone Together.  For those who read my blog, you know my feelings on contribution from everyone when it comes to collaborative activities so individual contribution was a non negotiable.  In the end, we defined innovation as the following:

New, exciting and uncharted improvement as a response to need, blocks or crisis.

How does that definition sit with you?  I personally think it is a good start but has a few areas that you could press on.  Does innovation need to be exciting?  Is disruption what we are striving for?  Not sure on that one.  Improvement and response to need, blocks or crisis sits well with me though.  After we collaboratively defined innovation, we spent time listing the current constraints that schools face.  The interesting element about our group was that there were are a few non educators in the group and it was really refreshing hearing their insights.  Sometimes the edu echo chamber can spin the same thinking around and around and so it was great to see how those in industry perceived the problems and questions education faces.  Here is the list of constraint themes that our group came up with:

Constraints for innovation

  1. System
  2. Mindset
  3. VCE
  4. Culture
  5. Fear
  6. Time
  7. Vision
  8. Religious beliefs

Now these constraints were loose themed titles for the individual thoughts of the group and can be seen as obligatory, cultural and personal.  The list is by no means exhaustive or indeed correct but it was where we landed.  From here our group then discussed what were the environmental conditions required for innovation to thrive.  How would we create the conditions for “new, exciting and uncharted improvement?”  The following list was put forward:

Conditions for innovation

  1. Commitment
  2. Growth mindset
  3. Incentive
  4. Support
  5. Shared vision
  6. Perceived problem
  7. Creativity
  8. Communication
  9. Courage
  10. Process

What do you think of this list?  It is a mixed bag of personal and cultural conditions with process being another key feature.  Did we get it right?  Have we left anything out?  This isn’t where we finished for the night.  We delved into developing innovation plays and there was some interesting learning turned up there.  But I’ll leave that for my next post.  As always thanks for reading.


Keynote presentation.021

It’s been a big week, both emotionally and professionally.  I write this after delivering the closing keynote to the #DigiCon16 conference which also happened to coincide with the ten year anniversary of my brother’s death.  I have written about Kev previously here and how his story as sad as it is has continued to inspire me daily.  I wasn’t really sure how I was going to go sharing it as it is still a raw wound.  Being honest, I collapsed in a heap after the conference as the magnitude of the situation hit home.  Presenting in any shape of form is always nerve wracking as you are exposed and vulnerable as you share your thinking, ideas and practice but this was much, much more.  I had always planned on sharing Kev’s story publicly because it is a beautiful and empowering story and so when I was blessed with the honour of being the closing keynote for this year’s DigiCon Festival of Learning, it felt right.  This feeling was confirmed when Bec told me the date I would be speaking was July 20, the date Kev passed away ten years ago.

My talk was about living a life of passion and ‘walking on’ to new opportunities and challenges.  Kev had always dreamed of playing college basketball at the highest level and he never baulked from any opportunity to chase that dream.  To make the Georgia Bulldogs squad, he had to earn a ‘walk on’ spot by giving up the safe road of a Division II scholarship for one shot at a Division I spot.  ‘Walk on’ was the real message for delegates.  In education, we need more educators to ‘walk on’ and take on new challenges, to rethink pedagogy, reimagine school and to grow our collective voice.  We all battle our inner self when it comes to new opportunities.  Talk ourselves out of going for something, self defeat with our own negative self-talk but why?  Why do we do that to ourselves?  Your value is needed, your voice counts and we need all educators to #WalkOn.  To step out of your comfort zone, to not settle for the way we have always done things but to seek as Seymour Papert dreamt, ‘radical new opportunities to develop school-as-it-can-be’.  

For those who are looking to do that, come and join us at CoLearn MeetUp at Collective Campus (1/20 Queen street, Melb) on August 11 at 6.30pm.  For more details, visit

There are many constraints within classrooms and schools and often we view these as blockers but constraints can actually allow us to be more creative.  This MeetUp will allow us to use these constraints to unlock new possibilities.  We will be tackling the following design challenge

How Might We create the conditions for innovation within the current constraints of school?  

This Meetup will collectively develop ideas and propose solutions to allow teachers at any school to create the right conditions for innovation in their classroom or school.  Help us develop an innovation playbook for educators to drive change within their classrooms and schools.